Wreck of the SS Bokhara

The ship set off from Shanghai on 8 October, due to arrive at Hong Kong on the 11th and was then bound for Colombo and Bombay.

On board were 148 people, as well as silk, tea and general cargo to the weight of 150 tons.

A typhoon struck on the 9th of October and the crew battened down the hatches, furled the sails and set the engines to dead slow in an attempt to stop the ship from being battered against the coast of Formosa. It worsened on the 10th and the lifeboats were blown away into the Taiwan Straits by the strong winds as were the deck fittings of the Bokhara. By nightfall, waves had swept over the ship, shattering the engine room skylights and flooding the machinery.

With the Bokhara approaching the Pescadores, the engineers tried in vain to restart the swamped engines while the captain warned the passengers of the oncoming collision. Soon after, the ship struck the reef twice, with the second strike causing the starboard side to be ripped wide open and within two minutes the Bokhara had sunk.

The survivors, who lay injured on the beach, were found by local Chinese fishermen who brandished axes and knives. After salvaging bits and pieces from the wreckage, the fishermen then took the survivors to Peihou Island followed by Makung, where they were looked after by the locals. They were then picked up by the Douglas Steamer Thales, who transferred the survivors to HMS Porpoise which was heading to Hong Kong.

No warnings had been received in those pre-wireless days and no SOS could be sent. Captain Sams gave orders to for all precautions to be taken, the hatches being battened down and other steps taken to meet the oncoming storm. All through Monday, 10th October the ship battled the fierce gale, but was steadily driven towards the north-west coast of Formosa (Taiwan). The sails were furled. The engines were set to dead slow and the ship brought to the wind on the port tack in a desperate bid to rescue the situation. The by-now tiring crew failed in their efforts laying beam on to the sea with her engines stopped and the Bokhara underwent a fearful battering.

One by one the lifeboats and deck fittings were wrenched from their davits and either smashed or swept overboard as the Bokhara drifted across the Taiwan Straits. The Captain tried vainly to bring her head around, but she drove on helplessly. By Monday evening everyone was near giving up hope. In a last ditch effort to abate the heavy seas, Captain Sams ordered oil to be pumped overboard. For a brief while it appeared to have the desired effect, but the oil soon stopped as a result of blocked pipes. At about 9:30 that night, three monstrous waves broke in succession over the Bokhara. The engine room skylights were shattered, the engine fires were doused and the machinery flooded.

It was almost midnight when land was spotted on the lea beam, not more than a few hundred yards away. While Captain Sams went below to warn the passengers, the engineers heroically attempted to restart the swamped engines. It was all to no avail. Within minutes, the Bokhara struck the reef protecting Sand Island (Pescadores Islands) for the first time. At her striking the reef a second time, her starboard side was ripped wide open. In less than two minutes she sank in ten fathoms of water.

Ran into a storm which gradually swamped her boilers. Forced to heave to and then driven ashore on Sand Island in the Pescadores group with a large loss of life including most of the Hong Kong cricket team returning from a match in Shanghai. Two passengers, three officers, two European crew, and 16 Lascar seamen survived the wreck, one officer being washed off the deck on to the shore. After a precarious two days in a ruined hut on the deserted island they were rescued by the efforts of the Mandarin of Makung, picked up by the Douglas Line steamer THALES and then transferred to the torpedo cruiser HMS PORPOISE, for passage to Hong Kong.